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I was lost as a philosophy student and a small business owner, trying to manage my time while feeling pulled in two different directions. On the one hand, I was studying 19th and 20th Century continental philosophy and working to obtain a master’s degree, and on the other hand, I was making hundreds of vegetarian tacos and burritos and leading a team of people to keep my business going. These two pursuits felt like they were in conflict with each other, and neither of them felt like the thing I was truly ready to settle on.
Over the three year stretch that I ran my business and studied for my master’s, the best day by far was when I sat down to make a website for the business. I parked myself onto the couch with my dog at my side and made our Squarespace site as I drank coffee and listened to music.
I loved that it felt like I was bringing something to life. It was fun, creative work that allowed me to explore new tools and learn new skills—in fact, it didn’t even feel like work at all. It was exciting.
I loved that instead of a laptop, three notebooks, a pile of academic papers, and a bunch of books, it was just me and my laptop. I had everything I needed right in front of me. And as I discovered, I’m a super visual person. Working on something that involved organizing everything in front me of me helped me find the key to my creative output and success.
At that moment, I realized: This is the life I want. At the time, though, it wasn’t even in the realm of possibility. I had a business to run. I had essays to write. I was too busy to even dream of changing careers.
Let’s fast forward four years. I’m now a full-time freelance web developer, with stints as a full time web developer (read: not freelance) under my belt.
It took time to get here. As a lifelong learner, I understood that I needed new skills to ensure I wasn’t left behind as technology became a driving force in our world. So I opted to learn how to code. I don’t know what I expected to happen when I begun. All I know is that in one afternoon I built my small business’s website and it changed the way I thought about work forever.
I want to share with you some of the ways that coding changed my life, and how I made decisions and took steps forward in that journey—especially around knowing when it’s time to take the leap and apply for web developer jobs.
Step 1: Get Started With HTML and CSS
It seems like there are an endless number of languages and frameworks to learn, and it can be daunting. So how do you know which ones to focus on? I say: Try out a few without a financial commitment (Codecademy and Code School are great places to start learning for free). See what sticks, and then begin investing in more in-depth programs.
Online classes offer flexibility and a lower price point than on-site bootcamps. I did a Front-End Web Developer Blueprint, WordPress Blueprint, and Visual Designer Blueprint with Skillcrush and a Complete Web Developer course through Udemy.
The most important thing to remember when you’re learning is to finish what you start. It sounds simple enough, but once you open up that first door into tech, you realize just how vast it is. It can be easy to get overwhelmed or distracted. I have a list going of new frameworks and languages that I’m interested in learning to avoid getting side tracked and I stick to the current lesson or program I’m on until it’s finished.
Step 2: Pick Your Specialty
So you’ve learned the basics, and now you want to specialize in a field or a particular technology so you can level up for the job force? Awesome.
If you’re more interested in how the user experiences the website or app you’re building and you enjoy finding solutions to design problems, you might be best suited for UX Design. You might prefer to dive into complex languages for hours at a time—making you an ideal candidate for being a language-specific developer who dives into back-end development. Love apps? Become an application developer or designer. And if you’re all about the visuals, a web designer might be your career path.
I’d like to highlight that no matter what your unique relationship of skills and experience, there is a place for your in tech. It turns out I’m more visual than I used to realize—and organized, too. So, I’m best suited to front-end work, web design, and project management.
Step 3: Get Your Career-Change Ducks in a Row
So what if you’re tired of your job, but not sure if you’re ready to take the leap into tech? There’s a few simple things you can do to jumpstart your career change.
First, spend a few dedicated weekends learning as much as you can. One way to learn a lot—quickly? You can check out your area to see if there are any upcoming hackathons. This can be a great way to do a lot of coding in a short period of time, and meet other developers while you’re at it.
Next, create and launch your own website if you haven’t already. Not only will you gain valuable experience through the process of pushing a site live, but you’ll be able to showcase the portfolio of work you’ve done. Putting any kind of portfolio together is going to be vital to getting the job or clients you want.
Update your social media profiles to include your new skills. This is especially important for LinkedIn, where there are recruiters searching for new talent all the time. You can update your LinkedIn profile to say that you are currently looking, and you should do the same on Stack Overflow and GitHub. As you keep working on projects that you enjoy, make sure you’re uploading them to your online portfolio for the world (and all the recruiting managers) to see!
Step 4: Start Applying For Jobs
You might never feel like you’re ready to apply for jobs in tech, but I urge you to get started in the interview process when you have a good grasp of the languages or technologies you’re learning. I know this is subjective for everyone, but trust me when I say that showing up willing to learn, work, solve problems, and collaborate is everything. If you can do that, you’ll be a valuable team member in any tech field. We are all learning new stuff every single day, so don’t wait until you think you know everything.
I probably wasn’t “ready” to start applying for work—I got my first developer job before I had even completed my Skillcrush course. I was fed up with the restaurant industry, so once I understood the basics of WordPress, I took the leap of faith and begun applying to Junior Front End Developer jobs.
I applied to two jobs that I found on Craigslist. I had a small portfolio that I was able to show prospective employers, and—thanks in part to my cover letter which showed my enthusiasm and excitement to make the career jump—I got an interview with one of the two companies!
During the interview, I was honest about where I was in my coding journey and what I still hoped to learn. The job actually went to another candidate who had more experience than I did, but that person decided that front-end development wasn’t right for them. About a month later, the employer then contacted me asking if I was still interested. Of course I said yes!
Step 5: Join Your New Team
Whether you’re freelancing or joining a company full-time, you’ll likely be working with a client’s team. It can be tough to start somewhere new, but don’t worry! That’s perfectly normal. The on-boarding process takes time. In fact, according to the 2018 Stack Overflow Developer Survey, almost 50 percent of developers expect a new employee to take one to three months before they can be productive members of the team!
The most valuable thing you can remember here is that no matter what you’ve learned before going in for your first job, the biggest skill that you’ll need is knowing how to adapt to the current environment and how to solve problems. Let’s talk about each of these a little more in-depth.
Every industry, every team, and every company has their own unique processes and workflows. While they may look similar from one to the next, there will be differences from company to company. When you’re hired, they’ll teach you all of this stuff, so don’t feel like you need to know every project management software or feel comfortable with every text editor. When I got my first developer job, I expected to be using GitHub on a daily basis, but we had our own internal method of backing up our work. I didn’t open GitHub once while I worked there! Every company is different in their methodologies, and you won’t be expected to know it going in. Instead, you’ll be expected to show up, be ready to learn, and adapt on the job.
You aren’t expected to know everything about every language—that’s unrealistic of even advanced developers. What you will want to know is how to solve problems—or search for the solutions to your problems. This is learning by doing, and learning by making mistakes, and it’s inherent to being a coder.
When it comes to seeking out help solving problems, Stack Exchange is the most popular platform for finding solutions to code problems. You may also find yourself part of a few Slack teams or have a few friends in the industry that you can look to when you can’t find the solution you’re looking for. The best thing about working with other developers is that you’re a team, and you can solve problems together. Knowing how to pinpoint and solve problems is a huge part of the job.